Capture and Release

Cameras I have known and lost

MY FIRST CAMERA WAS A TINY PLASTIC ONE that used 110 film, with negatives the size of my thumbnail. We lived at Farewell Lake along the Iditarod Trail in the 1970s and during the race, we set up a coffee and cookie stand just above the South Fork of the Kuskokwim River. While mushers stopped to talk and rest beside our bonfire, I snapped fuzzy pictures of their sled dogs; the film wouldn’t be dropped off at the photo lab until we flew back to town a few months later.

My second and third cameras were a Polaroid, used mostly for holidays at home, and a Pentax K1000 for my high school photography class with Tom Cresap (we still keep in touch—hats off to him for teaching me the basics like composition, contrast, and depth-of-field as well as film processing and printing techniques). I don’t know how many times I dropped that all-manual K1000, but until I forgot it atop my car one time after a hike and drove off down the Seward Highway only to first hear it bump and then see it fly off the roof and crash to the pavement in pieces—it miraculously didn’t have a scratch on it. A mighty workhorse, that one.

With little time to grieve my loss, I bought a Pentax Super Program, at the time a newfangled SLR with automatic and programable features. I used that for many years until point-and-shoots came along and I fell easily under their spell.

I finally tossed my latest Nikon Coolpix in the trash last month after it sat broken on a shelf for several years—I’d slipped and fallen with it in hand while stopping for a photo in my cross-country skis at Hatcher Pass. It died in stages, hoarding my last snapshots all to itself.

By then, I’d transitioned to my first cell phone camera on an LG flip phone. The results were less than stellar. And I recently tried a hand-me-down Olympus micro four-thirds but found all the doodads on it too complicated and fussy.

My go-to camera now is a Samsung Galaxy 6, or, as Nick Jans calls cell phone cameras in his “On the Edge” column this month, a “toy-sized gizmo.” My cell shots won’t win any photography contests like our annual competition—see the winning images HERE—but they suit my needs. I’m happy to leave the pro shots—and the heavy gear bags—to the pros and carry a backpack full of wild blueberries home instead.

In the annual photo issue, more than any other throughout the year, I wish we had ten times the number of pages to showcase all the high-caliber work being done around Alaska—the technical skill, the knack for seeing subjects in inventive new ways, and the dedication to waiting for just the right moment to capture the shot. We are happy, though, to highlight a handful of photographic contributions to our great state, from early business owners like Steve McCutcheon to the nonprofit Alaska Society of Outdoor and Nature Photographers to the lure of technologically advanced drones that capture new angles on favorite old places.

And if anyone out there is working on the next new camera design, please fix that mechanism that keeps adding an extra ten pounds. Thank you.

Susan Sommer